This is the third in a five part series in which I’m laying out the secrets to successful financial blogging. There are always exceptions to any rule, but if you follow this stuff you will see that I’m right. We’ve covered Aesthetics and Content, now let’s talk about the way you write.
Financial Blogging Secrets: Style
Titles: Post titles are extremely important on the web. Anything with someone’s name in it will get clicked. Anything with a number implying that there is some kind of list will also get clicked. Phrases like The Secret Behind, The Truth About, The Most Important, The Real Reason etc will get your headline clicked. But use these tricks sparingly; don’t be a dickhead about it or people will eventually condition themselves to ignore you. You know who you are. I’ve always tried to be clever and attention-grabbing with my post titles. The most clever title writer on the planet is John Paczkowski at All Things Digital. I have no idea how to pronounce his name. His titles are consistently playful, funny and interesting. They advertise what the article is actually about as opposed to this deleterious piece of spam which asks the question “Commodities Continued to Sizzle in 2010, But What’s In Store For 2011?” and then proceeds to waste 10 minutes of your time without answering it. That’s another thing, don’t you ever in your life ask a question in a post title that you don’t intend to answer, it makes people want to punch you.
Ledes: What is a lede? It’s the opener of your post, the sentence or two that hooks a reader in and doesn’t let them go. It should be witty, exciting, adroit and an encompassing statement about the piece they’re about to read. Here’s an example of one of my ledes (from Miami Hate):
“Miami is a lot like The Snorks – it hasn’t been cool since the 80’s and everyone’s house is underwater.”
If you click away after reading that, you probably suck and don’t deserve to read the rest anyway. Here’s a killer lede from Andrew Bary writing in Barron’s this past weekend:
“Some 84-year-old men fantasize about marrying a beautiful 24-year-old blonde. And maybe a few dream of regaining control of a company that they once owned completely. But only one—Playboy’s Hugh Hefner —is about to do both.”
Gangsta. Get it now?
Tone: This point is easier to make by just saying what not to do. Don’t be holier-than-thou, don’t act like you don’t make mistakes, don’t repeat yourself endlessly in an attempt to emphasize a point, don’t be bitter (or at least don’t let your bitterness show too much), don’t be nasty for the sake of being nasty, don’t be a sycophant when giving praise – just give praise. And most importantly, before you push Publish, make sure that you sound like someone that you would personally want to be around. If what you’ve just written makes you sound arrogant, overly negative, naive, hysterical or simple then go back and edit it. There are bloggers I won’t ever read again because of a glimpse of their true personality that really turned me off in one of their posts.
Emotion: Write how you feel. If you’re in a bad mood, make it come out in your writing. If you’re disgusted with something, convey that. If your subject matter is fun or lighthearted, then let that feeling ooze through you into the keyboard. People will remember your post and how real it felt and how different it was from all the other stuff they read that day. Be a goddamn writer.
Personality: Personality, as in Do You Have One? You should probably be a fairly three-dimensional and dynamic individual if you’re going to really do this, you need some degree of magnetism to build an audience. If no one likes you in real life, they probably won’t like your blog. Sorry, just how it is.
Grammar/Syntax: Use your head, there is a time to write in perfect English and a time to write more conversationally. You know how you’ll know? The subject matter will dictate it. I play golf with my baseball cap on straight, but that cap gets turned backwards (sideways even!) when that Up All Night Remix with Nicki Minaj comes on. By the same token, I have a pretty good idea of who my audience will be for certain types of posts and how I want to come across. Slang terms, misspellings and little nuggets of Wall Street/Hip Hop patois that appear to be randomly placed are actually being used very deliberately – I don’t write for your grandfather, I write for you.
Conclusions: Not every post has to make a point but the ones that do need to be at least loosely structured in a coherent fashion. Otherwise gang, it’s just a rant. I’m not interested in anyone’s rants and no one is interested in mine unless there is a point being made. So open with your point, make your point and close strong. I want to slap the desk after I read one of your posts and say “that boy good.” I’ve made my points here in this post without ever once saying “Here’s the point”. Except just now but that doesn’t count, it was expository.
I’m out, be yourself when you write (so long as ‘yourself’ is an interesting person).
Tune in next Friday for Part IV